Fostering a Positive Work Environment in the Mining Industry

Amid Western Australia’s thriving economy, the mining sector stands as a cornerstone. Alongside its prosperity, concerns about mental health, workplace culture, and safety have prompted a concerted effort for improvement.

In a significant proactive move, the Government of Western Australia unveiled the Mental Awareness, Respect, and Safety (MARS) Program on 11 December 2021, earmarking $8.4 million to address workplace issues within the mining industry.

An excellent example of collaboration for the greater good

The MARS Program is led by the Department of Energy, Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS). Cross-agency partners include the Mental Health Commission, Equal Opportunity Commission, and Department of Communities.

Following a meticulous selection process, Edith Cowan University (ECU) was the successful applicant for the Professorial Chair in Mining Work Health and Safety initiative. The inauguration of the MARS Centre at ECU’s city hub on 1 November 2023, marked a pivotal moment in prioritising the wellbeing of mining industry workers.

 “The ECU MARS Centre focuses on both research and education in the areas of workplace safety, respect and leadership, in the context of mining. The educational offerings within the MARS Centre aim to advance education of the current and incoming workforce, training future leaders and delivering an industry-focused, research-informed suite of programs. All this has been designed with the overall objective of enhancing a culture of safety and continuous improvement in the mining sector,” said Esme Franken, MARS Course Coordinator, ECU.

MARS Program pillars

At its core, the MARS Centre aims to address the mining industry’s work, health, and safety challenges through research and education. Based on the MARS Program pillars, the centre’s framework comprises three key focus areas:

  1. Fostering Mentally Healthy Workplaces: By identifying and managing psychosocial hazards while promoting conducive practices that enhance mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
  2. Cultivating a Culture of Safety and Respect: Striving for gender-equitable, respectful, and inclusive work environments that prioritise safety.
  3. Preparation for Future Workplace Safety in Mining: Empowering the next generation of mining professionals with training on work health and safety, including psychosocial hazards, emerging risks, and innovation in safety protocols.

Preparing the future mining workforce

ECU, in collaboration with industry experts, has been developing tailored undergraduate and postgraduate programs to prepare the future mining workforce. Among these experts is Franca Sala Tenna, a lawyer and workplace behaviour and compliance expert. She is also the founder of EEO Specialists who offer a range of workplace behaviour training workshops and online courses.

As part of the training curriculum, Franca and EEO Specialists have developed a series of interesting and thought-provoking video vignettes related to unlawful workplace behaviours. Performed by professional actors, these vignettes will be woven throughout ECU’s course content to make it more engaging and meaningful to students. Scenarios were created based on case law and work-related experiences that Franca has observed from her 15 years working in the space of understanding and addressing unlawful workplace behaviours.

“We are honoured to contribute to this forward-thinking initiative. Skilling up managers and supervisors to be able to identify and effectively manage unlawful behaviours is a critical component to reducing these types of behaviours,” said Franca Sala Tenna.

Through involvement with MARS Program initiatives like the ECU Professorial Chair in Mining, the mining industry, in collaboration with tertiary institutions and government, is poised to not only address existing challenges but also pave the way for a safer, more supportive, and inclusive work environment.

 

Links to more information:

https://www.wa.gov.au/organisation/department-of-energy-mines-industry-regulation-and-safety/mental-awareness-respect-and-safety-mars-program#:~:text=The%20MARS%20program%20will%20engage,awareness%20of%20issues%20and%20research.

https://www.wa.gov.au/organisation/department-of-energy-mines-industry-regulation-and-safety/educational-resources